[Blog] Snapshots of White Supremacy in Mormonism

In Heaven, Whites Only:

Snapshots of White Supremacy in Mormonism

by : Cody Noconi

The actual history of the Mormon church is stranger than fiction. The actual history of its founder, Joseph Smith Junior, is perhaps beyond adequate description; certainly beyond the scope of this paper. The present-day incarnations of the Mormon movement go to great lengths at times, in order to assure that this history is not made common knowledge, or even circulated within the organization itself. The following multi-part series is a smash cut of real Mormon history and theology, which even the LDS missionaries knocking on your door are likely to be unaware of.

The Mormon faith believes in continued revelation, wherein god can change his mind on a given topic so to speak, and instruct later generations differently than in previous ones. Unless a given set of revelations are corrected or clarified by the current ‘prophet’, or leader of the church, then one must assume that the previous revelations are canonized doctrine. Although current church leadership has attempted to white wash its wholly unsavory relationship to racism and white supremacist ideology, there are still a series of unresolved issues that desperately need to be addressed by the Mormon hierarchy. At the very least, parishioners within the organization need to call for a badly needed update or clarification to standing church doctrine and philosophy.

The following article, will cite only canonized Mormon scripture, and first-hand statements made by the church’s hierarchy. This is not an attempt to slander Mormonism. It is a snapshot of factually and historically based dogma, which much of the Mormon church is either willfully ignorant of, or which frantically grasps at weak rationalizations for it’s existence. In the current political and racial climate of the United States, it is more important than ever that this history and doctrine be brought more openly into the public forum so that can be fairly analyzed for it’s philosophical and ethical shortcomings. To hide and censor such history is unethical and does a great disservice to the spiritual advancement of the world.

 

In Mormonism, Melanin Content is a Hereditary Sign of Ancestral Wickedness

One section of current Mormon dogma which has yet to be revised, regards inherently racist doctrine which considers darker skin to be a caste like, divinely ordained form of segregation. For the vast majority of Mormon history, the church did not allow people of color, primarily African decent, to participate in temple endowment or sealing ordinances, which are the most important ceremonies in the faith. The unique exceptions to this being those of Australia and the Pacific Islands, which I discuss later. Justification for such practices came from an old Christian tradition that was used to justify slavery. That being, that god had marked Cain and his seed with a black skin for killing his brother Abel. This curse had been carried on through the Biblical flood with the wife of Ham, one of Noah's sons. This continuation of Abel’s curse was Ham's celestial punishment for the incident in which Ham had the gall to laugh at his naked, unconscious drunk of a father. 1 To quickly reiterate, early Christians believed that their god had a strange penchant for cursing ‘wicked’ individuals with black skin and the subsequent children that followed. A series of dogmatic events which shows up in currently published Mormon scripture.

For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the bareness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people.2

A divine curse of high melanin content is repeated nearly a dozen times throughout Mormon scripture,3 and is featured as an actual foundation to the central narrative of the Book of Mormon. In this text, most Native American tribes are split into two main groups, Nephites and Lamanites; essentially righteous white Indians and the wicked dark skinned ones, “...he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people, the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.”4

The Mormon god is not such a bad guy though, for he even removes said curse when his servants prove pious enough “...their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites.”5 In case one has any residual misconceptions regarding the spirit of this language, consider the following: “...their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and a delightsome people.”6 Said passage was edited out in 1981 when ‘white’ was changed to ‘pure’, conveniently brushing under the rug a rather distasteful and bigoted history. Apologists will attempt to excuse this edit as a reference to spiritual purity, however this illusion is easily shattered with some careful reading. For example, “...the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins.” 7

In Mormon theology there appears a long standing arrangement with god in the pre-Columbian Americas, wherein an individuals melanin content is based directly upon their current piety. That is to say that at any point, righteous individuals who fall from grace, would apparently turn from light colored skin tones into darker ones very quickly. For example, “...after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.”8 This sentiment of white supremacy was not just recorded in scripture. At one point in church history, Joseph received ‘revelation’ that the Mormons were to preach among the tribes of the Native Americans. In this divinely ordained proposal, the Mormon god decreed, “...it is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just...”9

Although the church policy change in 1978 allowed for those of African decent to finally hold the priesthood and participate in temple ceremonies, this racist doctrine has never been adequately addressed or revisited. The Mormon church has done a great deal to quietly edit these sections out of it’s history and forget that it ever happened in the first place.

 

Mormonism, Slavery, and Heavenly Servants for Eternity

Joseph Smith was an average sort of 19th century racist that believed segregation was progressive thinking. In an 1845 publication, Smith was posthumously quoted as saying, “Had I anything to do with the negro, I would confine them by strict law to their own species...”10 Smith did allow ordination of the Mormon priesthood to at least three black men on record. However, these were likely performed as personal favors or oversights, and were by no means a normal practice at any point in the church’s history until the end of the 1970’s. Mormon apologists go out of their way at times to point out that much of the persecution the early Mormons experienced, came from Missouri slave owners who felt politically threatened by large populations of them moving into the Missouri area so quickly. Those same apologists will make the claim that said anxiety stemmed from Smith being an outspoken advocate of the abolitionist movement. Unfortunately those claims are historically unfounded.

Joseph Smith went far out of his way at times to excuse the heinous practice of slavery and protect his own skin. In a letter published in a church periodical, Smith affirmed, “I do not believe that the people of the North have any more right to say that the South shall not hold slaves, than the South have to say the North shall.... the first mention we have of slavery is found in the Holy Bible.... And so far from that prediction being averse to the mind of God, it [slavery] remains as a lasting monument of the decree of Jehovah, to the shame and confusion of all who have cried out against the South, in consequence of their holding the sons of Ham in servitude."11 The only time Joe seems to have publicly reversed this opinion, came in February of 1844, when he ran for U.S. President on an anti-slavery platform. This was a rather late stage conversion to abolitionism, as it was just months before his death. It is therefore wholly inaccurate to label Joseph an abolitionist.

After Smith’s death in 1844 and the power schism that ensued, Brigham Young took control of the main faction of Mormonism, becoming it’s new President of the church. With the second generation of Mormonism, Brigham’s racism took the faiths already deplorable doctrine to new depths. Brigham not only published several articles defending slavery,12 but approved the trade of slaves in early Utah. Brigham and the Mormons under his command, even accepted slaves as an appropriate form of tithing or offering to the church.13 The level of Young’s disdain for those of African decent, can only be truly understood when one reads the mans own words:

You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, un-comely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race – that they should be the 'servant of servants,' and they will be, until that curse is removed; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree. How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam's children are brought up to that favorable position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood. They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed. When the residue of the family of Adam come up and receive their blessings, then the curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will receive blessings in like proportion.14

To quickly clarify the statement above; people of darker skin colors will eventually have their ancestral curse removed after Judgment Day, and will thus find themselves white in heaven. That merits reiteration. Mormon heaven is an Aryan paradise. Even if it is not widely circulated or discussed, this dogma has never been clarified or renounced, so once more, it is current LDS doctrine! The evidence of Brigham’s racism and draconian dictatorship over the early Mormon church are beyond the scope of this work. In regards to matters of race, Young’s influence had a major impact on the LDS church which led to horridly exclusive and bigoted policies, some of which which lasted well into the 1970’s. Below are just a few examples of Mormon dogmatic folk beliefs that arise during and after Brigham Young’s time:

  1. Those of African decent were being punished in this life because in the 'pre-mortal' existence, theirs were the souls which were 'fence-sitters' during the war in heaven, refusing to take a side.
    There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits. 15
  2. While some individuals of African decent were permitted to join the church, they were denied access to the religions most sacred ceremonies. Most notably, the temple ordinances and the family sealings, which are used to ensure worthy families can spend the afterlife together. One woman, Jane Elizabeth Manning, was a faithful and lifelong member of the LDS church who crossed the plains and passed away in Salt Lake City in 1908. 16 She petitioned the church leadership many times with the desire to be sealed to her family for all of time and eternity. For no reason other than her skin color, she was denied repeatedly during her lifetime. Instead, as a consolation prize for her lifelong devotion to the church, she was sealed posthumously to Joseph and his family; not as a family member but instead as Smith’s servant in heaven. Jane Elizabeth Manning obviously did not give her consent for the leaderships concession, which once again, didn’t take place during her lifetime and has never been corrected or apologized for. To reiterate, Joseph Smith currently has a slave in Mormon heaven…and at some undisclosed date in the distant future, approximately just after Judgement Day, she too will at long last get to be ‘delightsome and white’. Surviving well into the 20th century, Mormon Apostle Mark E. Peterson went one step further with this concept of heavenly slaves when he stated, “If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in celestial glory.” 17 In a religious cosmology consisting of several degrees of heaven, the celestial kingdom is the highest achievement in the Mormon afterlife. According to LDS Apostle Mark E. Peterson, those of African decent can only attain this level of heaven as an eternal slave or servant. Peterson was never an acting prophet or president of the Mormon faith, but such statements coming from the lips of church hierarchy illustrates the prevalence of these dogmatic beliefs. As these have never been clarified or apologized for by a higher ranking church official, one is left to assume that this too is church dogma, if a generally undiscussed one.
  3. Intermarriage between different ‘racial groups’ was strictly forbidden. In a private journal entry dated well into the 20th century, fourth President of the LDS church Wilford Woodruff wrote, “...if any man mingle his seed with the seed of Cain the only way he could get rid of it or have Salvation would be to come forward and have his head cut off and spill his blood upon the ground - it would also take the life of his children.” 18 From LDS First Presidency member George Albert Smith. In a letter to Virgil H Sponberg, a critic of the anti-black ban dated May 5, 1947: “...contemplate the intermarriage of the Negro and white races, a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient patriarchs until now.... there is a growing tendency, particularly among some educators, as it manifests itself in this area, toward the breaking down of race barriers in the matter of intermarriage between whites and blacks, but it does not have the sanction of the Church and is contrary to Church doctrine.” 19 Clearly still a sensitive topic to church officials in 2015, a Mormon Sunday school teacher was recently dismissed from his position for openly speaking about the church’s history regarding race. After being asked by his students, why his Nigerian wife would join a church with such racism in it’s foundational doctrine, the gentleman looked up the sanctioned church publications on the topic.20 He was subsequently fired from his teaching position for presenting that officially sanctioned material.21

As mentioned earlier, the native inhabitants of the Pacific Islands and Australia were somehow exempt from many of these restrictions and racist beliefs. The Mormon reasoning for this is rather confusing, as allegedly those of African decent (the seed of Cain) were cursed for their political stance during the pre-mortal existence and war in heaven. But indigenous descendants from the Pacific Islands and Australia (seed of Lehi), were simply cursed with the melanin, pigment swapping prevalent in the Book of Mormon in order to keep them in line. No need to get ones panties in a bunch though, as this curse will be lifted at Judgment Day and the afterlife will be as white as Steve Bannon’s most treasured fantasy!

It is utterly impossible to ignore the blatant racism embedded into Mormon doctrine and ideology. Despite the church’s many edits and attempts to cover up this unsavory history, the culture and principles of white supremacy still insidiously pervade the Mormon religion to this day. The only way these mistakes can begin to be remedied, assuming that it matters to a hierarchical pyramid of rich white men at all, is for the church to finally air it’s historical dirty laundry and offer up some kind of an apology.

 

The Policy Changes – Ethics or Just Good Business?

The much belated change in church doctrine, policies and the subsequent edits to church materials were not initiated until 1978.22 No apology was ever issued by the church for it’s behavior in the past. The hierarchy simply decreed a new revelation from god, and that was it. There are a number of quaint stories which have emerged in the LDS church regarding this shift towards basic human equality. They refer to various ways the ‘spirit of the lord’ spontaneously dictated this epistemological shift in foundation doctrine and policy.23 Despite these unsubstantiated folk tales, when one takes into account the political and social events leading up to this ‘revelation’, then the whole event seems like good business sense rather than divinely ordained inspiration.

One of the LDS church’s considerable income streams stem from it’s flagship university, Brigham Young University, or BYU. In October of 1969, fourteen Wyoming Cowboys football players were kicked off the team by then coach Lloyd Eaton. The players were retired for threatening to wear black armbands in order to draw attention racist LDS doctrine and policy.24 This incident spiraled into a number of colleges boycotting athletic games against BYU, including Stanford and San Jose State. Additionally, there was also a great deal of pressure mounting in the early 1970's from the Boy Scouts of America over the Mormons withholding leadership positions to both adults and children of African decent.25

Adding to this tension, in 1975, the LDS church announced that a temple was to be built in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The church dumped millions into the temple grounds and the various buildings located at the complex. Much of the population that helped finance and build the temple were themselves of mixed African decent, and thus would be for all intents and purposes, banned from the temple after it’s completion. Previously, the church had publicly stated that people could not enter the temple if they "having the least particle of negro blood.”26 The Brazilian population was such a cultural melting pot, that it would additionally prove impossible to verify this insane policy, and leaders were finding it difficult to explain themselves.

Furthermore, there is substantial circumstantial evidence to suggest that during a 1977 meeting with LDS church leaders, then President Jimmy Carter threatened to withhold federal tax exempt status from the church for it’s racist and discriminatory policies. The year prior in 1976, BYU had been placed in similar peril, by possibly having Federal Student Loans withheld for the same reasons.27 This was a potential loss of millions in yearly, tax-free income. Retroactively, the Mormon church was in a position to lose billions of dollars.

The Mormon hierarchy had been unapologetically dragging their collective feet on the matter of race for well over a century at this point. Even a casual observer should find it suspicious that the Mormon god decided to reverse a deplorable and institutionalized caste system for slavery which had been in place since the proposed birth of creation, only when the LDS church was in danger of going bankrupt. In order to better illustrate this very business like approach to the subject, the following timeline has been provided in large part, courtesy of MormonThink.com:

  • March 11, 1977: At 12:03 pm President Carter met with Spencer W. Kimball, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Representative Gunn McKay (D-Utah), and Representative Jim Santini (D-Nevada) for approximately 20 minutes in the White House.28

  • June 1977: Church President Spencer W. Kimball asks three church officials to write memos about the implications of a possible lifting of restrictions.29

  • March 1978: At a joint meeting of the church hierarchy, the leadership decided that any change in church policy should be presented as revelation. Spencer W. Kimball decides later that month to go ahead with the changes, and is advised by his councelors to wait for the full support of the church’s main leadership.30

  • June 1978: Kimball initiates the drafting of an official declaration of the changes to church doctrine and policy. The statement is later presented to the larger body of the church’s leadership, and the press is informed.31

  • October 30, 1978: Sao Paulo Brazil temple is dedicated by Spencer W Kimball.32

And that was it. Nearly a century and a half of institutional oppression, bigotry and intolerance, was to be white-washed away with one press release and a supposed story regarding a ‘revelation from god’. After reviewing the previous timeline, take into account one last quote from Spencer W. Kimball regarding said ‘revelation’. “I offered the final prayer and I told the Lord if it wasn't right, if He didn't want this change to come in the Church that I would be true to it all the rest of my life, and I'd fight the world against it if that's what He wanted.” 33 Brushing right past what seems to be Kimball’s sincere desire to be a crusader for human inequality, if this is the standard by which we are to judge divine revelation, than can we not collectively decide to raise the bar a bit higher?

Understand that the world is not likely to ever hear an apology uttered from the lips of Mormon authorities for it’s unsavory history and inherently white supremacist ideology. Mormon leadership does not have a fabulous track record for being socially progressive or standing on the right side of history, and does not generally make a habit of openly addressing it’s mistakes. Unfortunately, that is not likely to change unless the Mormon hierarchy is openly and respectfully opposed for presenting such a farcical and white washed excuse for it’s history and doctrine. As this paper has clearly outlined, despite heavy edits to church policy and scripture in 1978, there are still a good number of unacknowledged issues regarding institutionalized oppression through race and white supremacist philosophy still present in the Mormon religion. The only way the faith will be held accountable, and made to stop deifying their hate-mongering patriarchs, is for the world to stop excusing and ignoring the fact that this problem that still exists.

 

References:

  1. King James Version (1611). The Holy Bible, Genesis 9:18-29

  2. Pearl of Great Price, Book of Moses 7:8 [online] Available at: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp?lang=eng [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  3. MormonThink.com Article, Blacks and the Priesthood. [online] Available at: http://www.mormonthink.com/blackweb.htm#doctrine [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  4. The Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 5: 21

  5. Ibid, 3 Nephi 2:15

  6. Ibid, 2 Nephi 30: 6

  7. Ibid, Jacob 3: 5

  8. Ibid, 1 Nephi 12:23

  9. Smith, Joseph Jr., 1831 revelation, recorded in a letter from W.W. Phelps to Brigham Young, dated August 12, 1861. Found at MormonThink.com – Quotes, Native Americans [online] Available at: http://www.mormonthink.com/QUOTES/native.htm [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  10. Smith, Joseph Jr., 1845, History of the Church, v. 5, pp. 21-218

  11. Smith, Joseph Jr., Letter to Oliver Cowdery as found in the Messenger and Advocate, Vol. II, No. 7, April 1836.

  12. See: Millennial Star, Vol. 25, pp 787; also published in Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10, page 250

  13. MormonThink.com Article, Blacks and the Priesthood. [online] Available at: http://www.mormonthink.com/blackweb.htm#doctrine [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  14. Young, Brigham. Journal of Discourses, v. 7, pp. 290-291

  15. Smith, Joseph Fielding. Doctrines of Salvation, pp. 65-66

  16. MormonThink.com Article, Race and the Priesthood - Response to LDS.org. [online] Available at: http://www.mormonthink.com/essays-race-priesthood.htm [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  17. FairMormon.org Article, Mark E. Peterson claims that Blacks become servants in heaven. [online] Available at: https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Mormonism_and_racial_issues/Mark_E._Petersen_claims_that_Blacks_become_servants_in_heaven [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  18. MormonThink.com Article, Blacks and the Priesthood. [online] Available at: http://www.mormonthink.com/blackweb.htm#eventsleadingto1978 [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  19. Quoted in Lester E. Bush, Mormonism's Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview, p. 42. Found at MormonThink.com – Quotes, Black Intermarriage [online] Available at: http://www.mormonthink.com/QUOTES/blackintermarriage.htm [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  20. LDS.org Article, Race and the Priesthood. [online] Available at: https://www.lds.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  21. The Salt Lake Tribune Article, This Mormon Sunday school teacher was dismissed for using church's own race essay in lesson. [online] Available at: http://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=2475803&itype=CMSID [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  22. Statement of The First Presidency on the Negro Question, July 17 1947, quoted in Mormonism and the Negro, pp.46-7. Found at MormonThink.com, Race and the Priesthood - Response to LDS.org. [online] Available at: http://www.mormonthink.com/essays-race-priesthood.htm [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  23. Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on the Priesthood" in BYU Studies v47 n8 2008, pp. 128, 133. Found at MormonThink.com, Blacks and the Priesthood. [online] Available at: http://www.mormonthink.com/blackweb.htm#eventsleadingto1978 [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  24. The Salt Lake Tribune Article, BYU Football: Remembering the Black 14 Protest. [online] Available at: http://archive.sltrib.com/story.php?ref=/byucougars/ci_13728556 [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  25. MormonThink.com Article, Blacks and the Priesthood. [online] Available at: http://www.mormonthink.com/blackweb.htm#eventsleadingto1978 [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  26. Apostle Mark E. Peterson, "Race Problems – As They Affect the Church," Address given at the Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, delivered at BYU, August 27, 1954. Found at MormonThink.com, Blacks and the Priesthood. [online] Available at: http://www.mormonthink.com/blackweb.htm#eventsleadingto1978 [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  27. MormonThink.com Article, Blacks and the Priesthood. [online] Available at: http://www.mormonthink.com/blackweb.htm#eventsleadingto1978 [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  28. FAIRmormon.org, Did President Jimmy Carter threaten the church’s taxe-exempt status because of their policy on blacks and the Priesthood? [online] Available at: https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Question:_Did_President_Jimmy_Carter_threaten_the_Church%27s_tax-exempt_status_because_of_their_policy_on_blacks_and_the_priesthood%3F [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  29. MormonThink.com Article , Blacks and the Priesthood. [online] Available at: http://www.mormonthink.com/blackweb.htm#eventsleadingto1978 [Accessed Oct 25th 2017]

  30. Ibid.

  31. Ibid.

  32. Ibid.

  33. Deseret News, Church Section, January 6, 1979, p. 4